New charter school proposed for Watsonville

Would open in Fall 2019

WATSONVILLE — A Hollister-based organization is hoping to open a new charter school in Watsonville in time for the 2019 school year.

Navigator Schools would open Watsonville Prep.

The K–8 school would be open enrollment, with preference for Watsonville-area kids and a lottery admission system if need exceeds space available, Navigator Schools Director of Community Outreach Kirsten Carr said.

The organization already runs 5-year-old Hollister Prep and 7-year-old Gilroy Prep in those cities.

Watsonville Prep would start with two kindergarten, two first and two second-grade classes, for a total of 180 students. It would add another grade every year until it had an eighth-grade class.

Carr said the organization’s schools are tech-driven, with every student assigned their own device. Teachers are given ample professional development opportunities.

In addition, the schools aim to build a “culture of excellence” and strive to help their students succeed “in high school and beyond,” Carr said.

The company does not yet have a location for the Watsonville school.

Carr said the company has held several meetings with parents, who have shown interest in the proposed school.

“It’s important to us to be a partner with the district,” Carr said.

Carr pointed to test results from schools in her organization, which she said show students outpacing their peers statewide.

In Spring 2016, 82 percent of the students at Gilroy Prep scored proficient or advanced in English tests, while 67 percent reached that goal in math tests. 

During that same time period, 86 percent of students at Hollister Prep scored proficient or advanced on English tests, and 76 percent in math.

A high percentage of students in both schools are considered both socioeconomically disadvantaged and English learners, the organization’s website shows.

In deciding where to establish its schools, Carr said that Navigator officials look at areas with “underserved” communities.

“We are very deliberate in making sure our current schools are top performing schools before going into a new community,” she said. “Part of our mission is to be able to work with communities to pretty much eliminate the achievement gap.”

Charter schools have blossomed in number since the first one opened in St. Paul, Minn. in 1992. Currently, some 3 million students attend about 6,900 charter schools in 44 states, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Advocates say the different regulatory structures that govern charter schools gives flexibility to administrators to implement unique education methods, and autonomy to teachers to customize their lessons based on student needs.

But the schools come with controversy. Because they admit students who otherwise would attend public schools, opponents say they take average daily attendance (ADA) funds away from district coffers.

According to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2018-19 budget, statewide ADA funding would be $11,614 per-pupil, an increase of $465 per-pupil over the level provided in 2017-18.

Under California state law, charter school applications go through local school districts. The districts have 30 days to respond, and 60 days to either approve or deny the applications, Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said.

When considering the applications, school districts have a narrow band of criteria under which they must make their decisions, Rodriguez said.

Navigator Schools officials are preparing a petition to submit to PVUSD that would contain the school’s charter application. These touch on 16 program elements that include the organization’s financial plans, admission requirements and the school’s education plan.

Charter developers must also collect the signatures of either 50 percent of the teachers interested in working at the school, or 50 percent of the parents of students expected to enroll, according to the California Department of Education.

Carr said she hopes to submit the petition within two months.

Rodriguez said that the district supports the idea of providing educational choice for students.

But Rodriguez pointed to an increasing number of initiatives the district is undertaking, such as 21st Century Classrooms and a computer science immersion program.

“We believe it is extremely important for students to have educational opportunities that expand on their passions, but on the same token we feel that we can provide those opportunities,” she said.

The district is home to Linscott Charter School and Watsonville Charter School of the Arts, among others, that are considered “dependent” charter schools whose finances and educational requirements are more tied to the district.

Independent charter schools such as the proposed Watsonville Prep, on the other hand, don’t allow the “deep oversight” that allows PVUSD officials to govern the district’s 35 schools, Rodriguez said.

“I want to be able to have significant oversight over the education that students have in my community,” she said.


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